Sassafras. U. S. Sassafras.

Botanical name: 


Related entry: Oil of Sassafras

"The bark of the root of Sassafras variifolium (Salisbury) O. Kuntze (Fam. Lauraceae), without the presence or admixture of more than 2 per cent. of adhering wood, collected in the early spring or autumn, deprived of the outer corky layer and dried." U. S.

Sassafras Radix, Br.; Sassafras Bark, Sassafrax; Sassafras, Fr. Cod., G.; Sasaafrasso, It.; Sasafras (Le–o de), Sp.

Sassafras is an indigenous tree, of medium size, rising in favorable situations to a height of 35 feet. The bark of the stem and large branches is rough, deeply furrowed, and grayish: that of the extreme branches or twigs is smooth and beautifully green. The leaves, which are alternate, petiolate, and downy when young, vary much in their form and size even upon the same tree. Some are oval and entire, others have a lobe on one side, but the greater number are three-lobed. The flowers, which appear before the leaves, are small, of a pale greenish-yellow color, and disposed in racemes which arise from the branches below the leaves and have linear bracts at their base. The fruit is an oval drupe, about as large as a pea, of a deep blue color when ripe, and supported on a red pedicel, enlarged at the extremity into a cup for its reception. For the microscopical character of the root and bark, see E. S. Bastin, A. J. P., June, 1895. See also Ph. Rev., 1899, 450.

The sassafras is common throughout the eastern United States, and extends into Mexico. The fresh flowers have a slightly fragrant odor, and almost all parts of the plant are more or less aromatic. The best time for collecting the pith is after the occurrence of frost in autumn, and the same is the case also with the bark of the root.

Bark of Sassafras Root.—As found in commerce, this is usually in small irregular fragments, sometimes invested with a brownish cork, sometimes partially or wholly freed from it, of a reddish or rusty cinnamon hue, very brittle, and presenting when freshly broken a lighter color than that of the exposed surfaces. The living bark is nearly white, but becomes colored, on exposure, immediately after collection. It is officially described as "in irregularly transversely curved or quilled pieces, from 1 to 15 cm. in length and from 1 to 4 mm. in thickness; outer surface orange-brown, nearly smooth and marked with more or less irregular ridges; inner surface light to dark reddish-brown, obscurely short-striate; fracture short with a thin reddish-brown corky layer and a yellowish-white inner bark; odor aromatic; taste slightly mucilaginous, astringent, aromatic and somewhat pungent. The powder is light reddish-brown; when examined under the microscope it exhibits numerous starch grains and prominent, characteristic bast-fibers; starch grains either single or 2- to 4-compound, the individual grains being more or less spherical or polygonal and frequently with a distinct cleft, from 0.003 to 0.02 mm. in diameter, some of the swollen or altered grains attaining a diameter of 0.03 mm.; bast-fibers spindle-shaped, occasionally very irregular in outline, with sharply pointed ends, from 0.15 to 0.4 mm. in length, about 0.025 mm. in diameter, and with very thick, strongly lignified walls, the lumina being frequently nearly obliterated; parenchyma cells containing either starch grains or irregular yellowish-red masses of tannin and becoming bluish-black upon the addition of ferric chloride T.S.; fragments of wood few, with large, thin-walled trachea? marked by simple pores and associated with rather thin-walled wood-fibers. Sassafras yields not more than 30 per cent. of ash." U. S.

According to Reinsch, the bark contains a heavy and light volatile oil, camphorous matter, fatty matter, resin, wax, a peculiar decomposition product of tannic acid called sassafrid, tannic acid, gum, albumen, starch, lignin, and salts. (See Oleum Sassafras) The sassafrid bears some analogy to cinchonic red, and, like it, appears to be a derivative of the tannin, which exists in much larger proportion in the fresh bark than in that long kept. (Procter, A. J. P., 1866, p. 490.) Owing to its volatile oil and tannic acid, the bark of sassafras root is an aromatic stimulant and astringent. It is used almost exclusively as an adjuvant to other more efficient medicines, the flavor of which it improves, while it renders them more acceptable to the stomach. The volatile oil may be used as an aromatic. In overdoses it is capable of producing marked narcotic poisoning, and it is said to act upon the lower animals as a narcotic. John Bartlett has reported several cases in which its use apparently caused abortion.

Sassafras Pith (Sassafras medulla) was recognized by the U. S. VIII, and is at present included in the N. F. IV. It occurs in "sub-cylindrical, often curved or coiled pieces, from 2 to 10 cm. in length and from 2 to 5 mm. in diameter; very light in weight; externally whitish, occasionally with small fragments of adhering wood; fracture short. Odor slight; sassafras-like; taste mucilaginous. When examined under the microscope, transverse sections of Sassafras Pith, mounted in phloroglucinol T.S. and hydrochloric acid, show nearly isodiametric cells with large intercellular spaces, the walls being more or less lignified and provided with numerous simple pores; mounts made in water show the separation of a thin layer of mucilage from the inner walls of the cells, characterized by the gradual disappearance of the pores. Macerate 0.5 Gm. of Sassafras Pith with 25 mils of cold distilled water for several hours and filter it through purified cotton; a mucilaginous solution is obtained which does not give a precipitate upon the addition of an equal volume of alcohol." N. F.

It abounds in a gummy matter, which it readily imparts to water, forming a limpid mucilage, which is not precipitated by alcohol, but has much less tenacity than that of gum arable and will not answer as a substitute in the suspension of insoluble substances. This mucilage is much employed as a soothing application in inflammation of the eyes, and forms an agreeable and useful drink in dysenteric, catarrhal, and nephritic diseases. It may be prepared by adding a drachm of the pith to a pint of boiling water.

Dose, of sassafras bark, one to two drachms (3.9-7.7 Gm.).

The Dispensatory of the United States of America, 1918, was edited by Joseph P. Remington, Horatio C. Wood and others.